AUBURN - The heavy work is done. Auburn had its final full-pad practice of the preseason Wednesday night as Saturday's opener against Clemson rushed closer.
TE/ST coach Jay Boulware
No. 25 Auburn and No. 14 Clemson will square off at 6 p.m. at Atlanta's Georgia Dome. The game will be televised nationally by ESPN.
After 15 days of spring practice and a month of preseason practice, the Tigers are eager to test the schemes of first-year offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler and first-year defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. Even after all that time and all that work, some questions can only be answered when the bright lights go on.
Seven Auburn position coaches talked Wednesday about their players, their hopes and their expectations.
RB COACH CURTIS LUPER
On running back Mike Blakely
"Yeah, he's been what we expected. He can make the first defender miss just about every time. He's conscientious. He works hard. He's eager to play. He hasn't played in two years. We are eager to see him as well."
On how the carries will be divided
Wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor
"No way of knowing The plan is to play all those guys. We think we are going to need every one of them. We have a couple of packages where we play multiple backs That helps us now. We have 3-4 running backs so we can play two at a time, which we have wanted to do. We have an opportunity to do that Saturday."
On McCalebb's senior season
"Onterio has almost 3,000 rushing and receiving in this league. He is a proven commodity. We know what we are going to get from him. We are going to ask a little more of him this year. I'm excited to see him in an expanded role. He's still going to do the perimeter stuff, and we have a lot of new perimeter stuff Coach Loeffler brought in. That role has even expanded for him, but he's also going to run inside zone and get inside the tackles."
On Mason's readiness to play
"Tre is ready to go. He's ready to rock."
TE/ST COACH JAY BOULWARE
On which young players will play on special teams against Clemson
Defensive line coach MIke Pelton
"It's going to be interesting to see how (true freshman) Jonathan Jones is going to do, and (true freshman Joshua) Holsey. Some other guys like Anthony Morgan. Anthony Swain. Kris Frost will be out there. Some new guys are stepping forward.
"... I don't know how much Ricardo Louis will play. He's in our depth chart. Still waiting to see if Ricky Parks can help us this year. Obviously, Sammie Coates is a guy that is going to play some for us now. The one I'm most anxious to see is J.J. He kind of jumps out at me. Holsey is probably next."
On whether fullback Jay Prosch will play special teams
"Prosch has to block the iso. Are you kidding me? It's nice to finally have a fullback that can block the iso. I have him in some special situations on teams."
On where Park stands at tight end
"He's in the mix. We don't have that many tight ends. He has to continue to develop and grow. We'll see where he ends up over the course of the season."
On whether Parks will redshirt
"I don't think that decision has been made. He has the ability. It's whether or not he can grasp it. I mean, this guy has to learn to take run game steps and he played quarterback (in high school). He's more physical (as a freshman) than all the guys I've gotten since I've been here. If he can ever get his head in the right place and realize this is SEC football and he has to understand things at a higher level, he'll be something special. I have a lot of confidence in him."
Linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen
On sophomore Brandon Fulse
"Brandon is doing very well. He has really developed. I have been very pleased with where he is his second year. He's probably the most developed guy I've had in Year 2 in the run game phase of it. He's not the receiver Lutz is, but he can catch the ball and has done a good job this camp."
WR COACH TROOPER TAYLOR
Depth chart: 1. Emory Blake (6-1, 193, Sr.), 1. Trovon Reed (6-0, 190, So.) or Travante Stallworth (5-9, 191, Sr.), 1. Quan Bray (5-11, 185, So.). 2. Sammie Coates (6-2, 200, RFr.), 2. Jaylon Denson (6-3, 211, So.). 3. Ricardo Louis (6-2, 210, Fr.).
On how receivers have performed in preseason
"It's been pretty good. Emory has been Emory. He has been making some plays. Trovon has done a really good job. You have to like Quan's spirit out there. He plays hard and practices hard and just has fun. I've been really pleased with some of the young guys. Ricardo Louis has done a good job of learning what to do and understanding what it means to practice on the college level. I really feel good going into this game about being able to play quite a few guys."
On how many receivers he will rotate
"Probably looking at rotating six altogether. Somewhere in that number."
Secondary coach Willie Martinez
On having more options than in previous seasons
"With the intensity you have to play with in this offense, where they have to be on offense and the assignments they have, it may be a receiver having to cut off a backside guy 30 yards downfield. You do that a few times and somebody else is going to have to play. It's exciting to them. The guys have been fired up because they are getting opportunities to play."
On Bray's move into a starting position
"I just think it's Quan's tenacity on his run blocks. He's a pretty physical kid. You don't have to sub out and bring a tight end or an H-back in for him, because he can make that block. It may not look pretty, but he's going to find a way to get it done. He practices with intensity just like it's a game. You have to slow him down."
On Reed's physical transformation after working overtime with strength and conditioning coach Kevin Yoxall
"No question Yox is his MVP. He has changed the kid's body."
"(Ray) has done a pretty good job and you'll probably see him on more special teams. Morgan, you'll probably see a lot of him. He has done a good job of getting back out there and fighting through some injuries."
OL coach Jeff Grimes
DL COACH MIKE PELTON
Defensive tackle depth chart: 1. Jeff Whitaker (6-4, 307, Jr.), 1. Angelo Blackson (6-4, 308, So.). 2. 2. Gabe Wright (6-3, 299, So.), . Ken Carter (6-4, 289, Jr.). 3. Devaunte Sigler (6-4, 291, So.), Tyler Nero (6-2, 277, Fr.).
On Whitaker's role as the leader of the defensive tackles
"He's just Mr. Steady. He's one of those guys that is going to come to work every day. He's just a consistent guy."
On depth at defensive tackle
"I think those guys have embraced it. I think they know playing in the conference we play in and playing the teams we play, playing a team with fast tempo like Clemson, you are going to need that depth. I think they push each other. The game is going to be won in the trenches."
On the comfort of being able to substitute freely
OC/QB coach Scot Loeffler
"You always want depth, but there is a distinct difference between No. 1 and No. 2. There is a reason those guys are first team. At the same time, you feel comfortable putting those guys in and letting them play."
On Ford's rise to the first team and Eguae's troubles after missing spring practice
"Dee benefitted from a fresh start. He impressed Coach VanGorder and really just took it by the horns. He benefitted from Nosa being out this spring. Nosa is trying to find his way back into the groove of things and learning. We have a motto in that room that you get what you earn. Dee has earned that."
On how Eguae has responded to being a reserve after 23 consecutive starts
"Nosa is a competitor. He understands, but he's not going to surrender. I tell him every day you work because you never know what the next day holds. He's a competitor and he's working. He realizes Dee has earned it, but at the same time, he hasn't surrendered. You're talking about a guy that has started a long time here. That thing isn't over with."
LB COACH TOMMY THIGPEN
RB coach Curtis Luper
On linebackers in the mix for Clemson
"We have four or five guys that can contribute to us - Jake Holland and Ashton Richardson, Justin Garrett, Daren Bates and Jonathan Evans. It's a good group. In this game, with all the skill they've got, we have to try to keep speed out there on the football field."
On freshman middle linebacker Cassanova McKinzy
"He's a long way from learning the game. One day he'll be a guy we'll all talk about. I love the way he practices and I love the way approaches the game. He's not ashamed to know he doesn't know it. He asks questions every day and gets better every day. Even if he does make a mistake, he goes 125 miles per hour."
On whether McKinzy could play this season
"That's up to him. It depends on how fast he keeps learning. He is in there every day. He comes in when nobody else is there to work on what he needs to work on. He goes in and watches himself on the scout team. You watch him out at practice and he's at a different speed than anybody else. Hopefully, by midseason he will have picked up to where we can at least function with him in our base defenses."
On the importance of the middle linebacker
"You are the defense, the quarterback of the defense. There are a lot of checks and a lot of calls and a lot responsibilities. That guy has to be on it. He can't just go out and play on talent alone."
SECONDARY COACH WILLIE MARTINEZ
Cornerback depth chart: 1, Chris Davis (5-10, 200, Jr.), Ryan White (5-10, 196, Jr.). 2. Jonathon Mincy (5-10, 190, So.), T'Sharvan Bell (6-0, 190, Sr.).
Free safety depth chart: 1. Ryan Smith (6-1, 204, Jr.), 2. Trent Fisher (6-1, 200, So.).
"They will see action. How much I really don't know. They've been through some injuries, and with that you fall behind in reps. Each one of them are a little bit different. There is quite a bit of football ahead of us. We haven't started yet. They are all still learning the system. You can see each day they get into a different comfort zone. They will be a part of it."
On White winning a starting job
"He's been a player that has gotten better and better through the spring. He's done a really good job this camp."
On safety Trent Fisher cracking the depth chart
"Trent is a conscientious, smart, focused individual."
On Jermaine Whitehead winning a starting job after moving from cornerback
"Jermaine is a very smart football player. He's obviously one of the guys that, right from the get-go, was picking stuff up very quickly. He was a little bit apprehensive about making the move. It took a little bit of convincing by the staff, just thinking that was the right spot for him. We feel really good. He has really improved and has taken it to a different level."
OFFENSIVE LINE COACH JEFF GRIMES
Right tackle depth chart: 1. Avery Young (6-6, 295,TFr.), 2. Pat Miller (6-6, 298, TFr.).
For a Q&A with Grimes, follow the link below.
OC/QB COACH SCOT LOEFFLER
Loeffler talked about the offense and the quarterbacks on Tuesday night. For the story, follow the link below.